Police said a then 21-year-old Patricia Esparza met the victim, Gonzalo Ramirez, in a nightclub. She allegedly later told her ex-boyfriend, Gianni Van, that Ramirez assaulted her.
"They go to a bar here in Santa Ana, where she points out our victim as being the individual that had committed the assault," said Cpl. Anthony Bertagna of the Santa Ana Police Department.
The bar, which once stood on the corner of McFadden and Grand avenues, is where investigators say Esparza and Van, along with friends Kody Tran, Tran's wife Diane Tran, and Shannon Gries, waited for Ramirez to leave. They allegedly then followed Ramirez and bumped his truck, forcing him to pull over to inspect the damage.
According to investigators, the plan had been to kidnap Ramirez and bring him to Kody Tran's transmission shop in Coast Mesa. But they say at some point it changed to murder.
"Our victim is tied up, beaten and eventually murdered," Bertagna said.
Detectives started honing in on Esparza and Van with the help of phone records and DNA evidence, but then the investigation hit a wall when the suspects married each other.
"Obviously, she was not obligated to testify in the case against her husband," Bertagna said.
The case stalled for 15 years until Esparza filed for divorce from Van, got re-married and moved to France.
"Unfortunately, for our detectives, there is no extradition from France," Bertagna said.
Detectives caught a break in October when Esparza, a doctor who had been a professor of psychology working for Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland, flew to Boston for work and was arrested.
Just recently, a witness stepped forward, allowing police to gain enough evidence to arrest Van and Diane Tran. Tran's husband committed suicide during a SWAT standoff in Irvine in July. Police say Gries, whose last known address was in Colorado, is being sought.